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A STORY ABOUT A REAL MAN                                                                          27
but even beneath that layer the eye could still trace the
line of trenches, the hillocks of wrecked machine-gun
emplacements, the endless shell craters, large and small,
stretching to the feet of the mutilated, beheaded or blasted
trees at the forest edge. Dotted over this lacerated field
were a number of tanks painted in the motley colours of
pike's scales. They stood frozen to the snow, and all of
them—particularly the one at the extreme end which
must have been turned over on its side by a grenade, or
a mine, so that the long barrel of its gun hung to the
ground like an exposed tongue from the mouth—looked
like the carcasses of strange monsters. And all over the
field, on the parapets of the shallow trenches, near the
tanks, and on the edge of the forest, lay the corpses of
Soviet and German soldiers. There were so many that in
some spots they lay piled up on top of each other; and
they lay in the very same frozen postures in which death
had struck them down in battle only a few months before,
on the border-line of winter.
All this told Alexei of the fierce and stubborn fighting
that had raged here, told him that his comrades-in-arms
had fought here, forgetting everything except that they
had to check the enemy and not let him pass. At a little
distance, near the edge of the forest, at the foot of a
thick pine which had been decapitated by a shell, and
from whose tall, mutilated trunk yellow, transparent
resin was now oozing, lay the bodies of German soldiers
with smashed-in skulls and mutilated faces. In the middle,
lying across one of the enemy bodies, was the prostrate
body of a huge, round-faced, big-headed lad without a
greatcoat, in just a tunic with a torn collar; and next to
him lay a rifle with a broken bayonet and a splintered,
blood-stained butt.
Further on, on the road leading to the forest, half-way
out of a shell crater at the foot of a young, sand-covered
fir-tree, lay the body of a dark-skinned Uzbek with an
oval face that seemed to have been carved out of old
ivory. Behind him, under the branches of the fir-tree,
there was a neat stack of grenades; and the Uzbek himself
held a grenade in his dead, upraised hand, as if, before
throwing it, he had taken a glance at the sky and had
remained petrified in that pose.